Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Deer culling and oil drilling--a follow-up

The stories in Environmental controversies from WXYZ: Deer culling and oil drilling continue to develop.  First, one story appears to be over, as WXYZ reported last week Drilling to cease in Shelby Township, no oil found at well.

That's good news for the residents and people who visit Stony Creek Metro Park, including my students.

Next, MLive describes an alternative to hiring a sharpshooter to cull Ann Arbor's deer herd in Humane Society to assess potential for deer fertility control in Ann Arbor.
The possibility of a city-funded deer cull in Ann Arbor has citizens on both sides of the issue adamantly arguing for and against shooting deer in the city.

As a potential alternative to going the lethal route, the Humane Society of the United States is now being invited to travel to Ann Arbor to assess the feasibility for conducting a deer fertility control research project here.

If it's determined to be feasible, the Humane Society has indicated a willingness to work with the city to prepare and submit a proposal to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, seeking approval for a fertility control program.

The Humane Society is working with communities around the country to implement immunocontraception and surgical sterilization methods as an alternative to killing deer.
"Fertility control may be a viable option that could be used to stabilize and reduce deer populations over time in urban communities, especially in areas where culls may not be effective, logistically feasible or socially acceptable," [Stephanie Boyles Griffin, the Humane Society's senior director of wildlife response, innovations and services] wrote in a letter shared with city officials. "There are already ongoing projects in Hastings-On-Hudson, Cayuga Heights and East Hampton, New York, as well as in San Jose, California, Fairfax City, Virginia, and Baltimore County and Montgomery County, Maryland, to name a few."
I have nothing against hunting, but if the residents and government officials of Ann Arbor can control their deer herd without it, I'm OK with that, too.  I wish everyone in the town where I lived for a decade the wisdom to make the correct decision for them.  When that happens, I promise to report it.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Grilling over lava for Memorial Day

Happy Memorial Day!  I know there is a serious purpose to today, but this weekend is also the kickoff for summer and outdoor cooking.  How could I top safe grilling advice and the science of beer and hot dogs to mark the holiday?  Grilling steaks over molten lava!  CNN reported on this last August when the channel asked Would you eat a steak grilled ... on lava?

The first steak ever grilled, on lava! Jeanne Moos reports this gastronomic eruption tasted like "the best steak ever."
The story may be nearly a year old, but it's gotten legs lately, as Syracuse.com reported last week: Cooking steaks over molten lava? Syracuse University praised for 'badass' grill.
The stunt and video are both 10 months old, but praise has been heating up this past week from Popular Mechanics, Boing Boing, Business Insider and Mental Floss. A writer at BuzzFeed even called it "badass" and said "this is how real men grill."
I saw it on my YouTube feed last week and one of my students submitted an article about it for extra credit.  Between the two, I knew what I'd post to celebrate Memorial Day.

Here is the complete video of the original run from Media Studio TV: 082114 Lava Steak (Lava-cooked steaks in upstate New York).

Keep calm and grill on!

Sunday, May 24, 2015

'Tomorrowland'--optimism isn't selling as well as dystopia at the box office

I telegraphed my intentions for today's post in yesterday's entry about roundabouts when I wrote that it would feature "Tomorrowland," which Vulture called the anti-Hunger Games, an optimistic movie about rescuing a better future that is at risk of being lost.
It emerges that Bird, in Tomorrowland, is mounting nothing less than a full-throated assault on the nihilism, dystopianism, and what might be called the fetishization of apocalypse in today’s movies, TV shows, and books — especially YA books that worm their way into the fantasies of impressionable kids. This is not, you understand, the movie’s subtext. It’s the Über-Über-text. It’s the message that’s articulated in multiple ways, as boldly as that Einstein sign, by characters bad and good, and it’s implicit in the riddle posed by Casey’s NASA dad that becomes the cornerstone of his daughter’s worldview: You have two wolves, one representing darkness and despair, the other light and hope. Which one lives? Says Casey: “The one you feed.”

My response to Bird’s anti-dystopianism is “Cool.” Because, really, how many more plague–flood–road warrior–kids-killing-kids movies do we need? It is time to feed that other wolf, if only for the sake of variety. And maybe we’ve learned too well since the days of Dr. Strangelove — which came out the same year as the New York World’s Fair — to “stop worrying and love the bomb.”

The trouble comes when Bird gets carried away with his critique of all things critical. In Tomorrowland, he suggests that it’s the people sounding the alarm — the ones constantly reminding us about climate change or the dangers of nuclear power — who are accelerating our demise, their pessimism wreaking havoc on imaginations that would otherwise be busy inventing solutions. I suspect that’s Bird’s Ayn Rand side showing its warty head, spinning another tale of extraordinary individuals kept from manifesting their creativity by repressive liberal groupthink. If Bird really believes we should shift the blame from a fossil-fuel industry bankrolling anti-science propaganda embraced by greedheads and fundamentalist wackjobs to the 98 percent of the world’s scientists saying, “If we don’t act now, and we mean now, we’re royally screwed,” he’s living in his own private Disneyland.
I hadn't known that Bird was an Objectivist.  Too bad, it makes me think less of him.  [ETA: Bird denies this, as The Dissolve points out.  Still, there is definitely a Randian flavor to his films' themes, one that the critics pick up.]  As for his film, follow over the jump for how it fared at the box office, especially compared to the films that it's critricizing.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Roundabouts--instructions and music

Roundabouts have become more common during the past decade in Michigan as they have been installed at major intersections.  One of them is being built only two miles away from where I sit right now as I type.  Traffic in the area is a mess, but I'm looking forward to seeing how it flows once the roundabout is finished.  I don't mind driving through roundabouts, but a lot of other people I know dislike them.  For them, I present WOOD-TV's How to navigate a roundabout.

Experts say roundabouts are safer, but the thought of navigating them makes many people anxious.
I learned some useful information from this clip.  Before I watched it, I didn't know about the savings in electricity (very on-topic for this blog and useful for my classes), the actual numbers for reduction of fatal and injury accidents, or the law about how many times one can go around a roundabout.  Now I do.

Enough seriousness.  It's a holiday weekend and I'm worn out from writing Popular entries from the back catalog for the fourth year of Crazy Eddie's Motie News, so I'll leave my readers with some topical music, Roundabout by Yes in HD.  Enjoy the sound and scenery!

Stay tuned for the Sunday entertainment entry, which I expect will feature "Tomorrowland."

Friday, May 22, 2015

Popular entries from the back catalog for the fourth year of Crazy Eddie's Motie News

It's time to finish this series.

I concluded Reactionary movements for the fourth year of Crazy Eddie's Motie News with the promise of one more post.
That completes this look back at the 20 most read entries of the past blogging year.  Stay tuned for the final installment about posts from the back catalog that made big moves on the leaderboard last year after a celebration of Earth Day.
That echoes how I concluded the retrospective series of the previous year's entries in Social media for the second and third year of Crazy Eddie's Motie News.
That's all for the entries from the the third year of the blog for this year.  Maybe next year I'll describe how one or more broke out of the pack to get into the top ten list, but that's next year's problem.
Let's see if I can tackle both in this entry.

The most read entry for the history of the blog according to the default counter as of March 21, 2015 and still the current number one is Eye spy the gas price rollercoaster about to coast down like a parachute, posted on September 2, 2012 with 1988 page views, which it still has now.  The post currently has 2916 according to the raw counter.  This entry was not among the top 20 for the second year of the blog on March 20, 2013, and not among the default top ten as of March 20, 2014.  It began its rise during the second half of 2014, when gas prices began their long, deep slide from $3.50 to just under $2.00 and a lot of web searches retrieved it as one of the results.  The entry was in the monthly top ten for six months running during that time period, enough to move it from not on the list to the top of the leader board.  Amazing how a change in economic conditions can revive the fortunes of an old post.

Follow over the jump for more revenge of the back catalog.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Kunstler rant and recycled comments for National Train Day

I missed a transportation holiday a couple of weeks ago, but Kunstler gave me the opportunity to commemorate it with his Monday rant on the sad state of our passenger rail system in Dead Nation Walking.
Many people seem to think that America has lost its sense of purpose. They overlook the obvious: that we are striving to become the Bulgaria of the western hemisphere. At least we already have enough vampires to qualify.

You don’t have to seek further than the USA’s sub-soviet-quality passenger railroad system, which produced the spectacular Philadelphia derailment last week that killed eight people and injured dozens more. Six days later, we’re still waiting for some explanation as to why the train was going 100 miles-per-hour on a historically dangerous curve within the city limits.
One reason Americans prefer to drive — say, from Albany, NY, to Boston — is that there is only one train a day, it never leaves on time or arrives on time, and it takes twice as long as a car trip for no reason that makes any sense. Of course, this is exactly the kind of journey ( slightly less than 200 miles) that doesn’t make sense to fly, either, given all the dreary business of getting to-and-from the airports, not to mention the expense of a short-hop plane ticket.

I take the popular (and gorgeous!) Hudson River Amtrak train between Albany and New York several times a year because bringing a car into Manhattan is an enormous pain in the ass. This train may have the highest ridership in the country, but it’s still a Third World experience. The heat or the AC is often out of whack, you can’t buy so much as a bottle of water on the train, the windows are gunked-over, and the seats are often broken. They put wifi on trains a couple of years ago but it cuts out every ten minutes.
Nowhere on earth is there passenger rail that pays for itself. But, of course, you don’t hear anyone complain about the public subsidies for driving or air travel. Who do you think pays for the interstate highway system? What major airport is privately owned and operated?

Some of the decisions made over our rail system are so dumb you wonder how the executives on board ever got their jobs. For instance the train between New York City and Chicago never runs on time for the simple reason that Amtrak sold the right-of-way to the CSX freight line. CSX then tore up the second track because there was an antiquated state real estate tax on railroad tracks. As a result, freight trains have priority on the single track and the passenger trains have to pull over on sidings every time a freight needs to go by. Earth calling the New York state legislature. Rescind the stupid tax.

America is going to need trains more than it thinks right now, despite what the “free market” says. The condition of our trains is symptomatic of the shape of the nation. The really sad part is we missed the window of opportunity to build a high-speed system. Capital will soon be too scarce for that. But we still have a conventional network that not so many decades ago was the envy of the world, and we know exactly how to fix it. We just don’t want to.
Follow over the jump for my comments and a reply to them.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

President Obama's plan to save the bees

As I wrote the day before yesterday in Bees and eagles--distressing biodiversity news from Michigan, Doctor Who isn't the only one worried about disappearing bees.  That entry included a video from WOOD-TV in Grand Rapids showing how farmers help dying honey bee hives about colony collapse disorder.  The very next day, The Washington Post published How the White House plans to help the humble bee maintain its buzz showing that bees have friends in high places.
The humble bee — nuisance, threat, and linchpin of the American food supply — has won over the leader of the free world. And now President Obama is intervening on the bee’s behalf as its habitat dwindles.

On Tuesday, the Obama administration will announce the first National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators, a bureaucratic title for a plan to save the bee, other small winged animals and their breeding grounds. The initiative may feel like the kind of niche interest a second-term president devotes his time to, but scientists say his attention to the busy workforce that sustains many American crops is critical. While bee colonies regularly die off during winter because of stressful conditions, their sharp decline has been called a potential ecological disaster by some environmentalists and academic experts; conservative Rep. Ted Yoho (R-Fla.) described it in an interview as “an essential thing [that] we need to pay attention to.”

The strategy, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Post, will seek to manage the way forests burned by wildfire are replanted, the way offices are landscaped and the way roadside habitats where bees feed are preserved.

It is also the culmination of a years-long fascination Obama has had with the bee and its worrisome fate.

“I have to say that it is mighty darn lovely having the White House acknowledge the indigenous, unpaid and invisible workforce that somehow has managed to sustain all terrestrial life without health-care subsidies, or a single COLA, for that past 250 million years,” said Sam Droege, a U.S. Geological Survey wildlife biologist and one of the country’s foremost experts on native bee identification.
Droege wasn't the only scientist praising the announcement and the plan.  Reuters posted its video Saving the honey bees showing Stephen Cook, a research entomologist, applauding the administration's action and repeating the importance of pollinators.

Reuters has more on the importance of bees in That’s billion, with a bee: Measuring the massive cost of hive collapse.  To read the announcement and plan, click on the link to the Washington Post article above and follow their links or click on this link to Announcing New Steps to Promote Pollinator Health at the White House website and follow the links from there.

As for me, I approve of this Crazy Eddie plan and wish it all the success possible.  Our food supply is depending on it.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Mount St. Helens eruption 35 years later

Yesterday was the 35th anniversary of the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens.  I've commemorated the anniversary once before when I posted an Accuweather video as the second of Two environmental videos from Accuweather.  This time, I'm sharing the full video of the NOVA episode 'Mount St. Helens Back from the Dead' from 2010, a clip of which I show my students to begin my lecture on volcanoes and vulcanism.  It definitely gets their attention.

An eruption like this won't cause the collapse of civilization, but it can certainly ruin a city.  Just ask the Romans.*  On the other hand, a supervolcano eruption could contribute to the downfall of a civilization.  I might blog about that one of these days.

*I might deliver an answer the next Ides of March.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Bees and eagles--distressing biodiversity news from Michigan

I'm being a good environmentalist and recycling the opening to Environmental controversies from WXYZ: Deer culling and oil drilling.
In the spirit of Michigan transportation news from WXYZ, I'm continuing to showcase two local sustainainability stories on a common theme.
Today's common theme is bad biodiversity news that is prompting responses to correct the problems.  First, Doctor Who isn't the only one worried about disappearing bees as WOOD-TV reports Farmers help dying honey bee hives.

According to a new study, this past year honey bees experience the second biggest die off rate in nine years. (May 15, 2015)
Yes, colony collapse disorder strikes Michigan, too.  It also reinforces a fact I tell my students, that fruit crops require two hives per acre, and shows what steps bee keepers are taking to combat the problem.

Next, WXYZ has a clip about a biodiversity story that has more symbolic than practical importance, Bald Eagle found shot dead.

The DNR is searching for whoever shot and killed a Bald Eagle.
This is the second local story about Bald Eagles from WXYZ that I can share with my students.  The first was Bald Eagles in Monroe Michigan, which showed how many eagles winter at the DTE plant and how the waste heat from there can actually be useful.  This clip not only shows the reaction to the eagle being shot (pretty universal disapproval) but also cites the relevant laws.  I think that will be useful to pass along.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

What a lovely weekend for 'Mad Max'

I finished 'Age of Ultron' tops box office for second week with a program note about an upcoming movie more on-topic for this blog.
For something more post-apocalyptic, Mad Max premieres this Friday...Stay tuned.
I begin this entry as I did the previous Sunday entertainment entry, with an excerpt of a report from Variety by way of Reuters: 'Pitch Perfect 2' Races Past 'Mad Max: Fury Road' With Outstanding $70.3 million.
"Pitch Perfect 2" hit all the right notes at the box office, snagging first place on the charts with a smashing $70.3 million debut despite fierce competition from "Mad Max: Fury Road."
"Mad Max: Fury Road" also put up strong numbers, racking up $44.4 million across 3,702 locations. The Warner Bros. release capitalized on rapturous critical notices with some reviewers tossing around words like "genius" and "masterpiece."

"It's a film where there's a lot of applause at the end of the movie," said Dan Fellman, Warner Bros. domestic distribution chief. "A lot of people coming to the movie went purely on the reviews. The conversation about it is so strong about what an incredible ride this is that it's going to propel us right into the meat of the summer."

"Mad Max: Fury Road" needed the critical notices, because three decades separated chapters in the apocalyptic franchise and original star Mel Gibson aged out of the role/had one intemperate outburst too many and had to be replaced by Tom Hardy. Moreover, the film carries an R-rating which prevents teenagers from attending the picture without a parent or guardian, potentially limiting its audience.

"Mad Max: Fury Road" has much more ground to make up before it pushes into profitable terrain. "Pitch Perfect 2" cost a modest $29 million to produce, while "Mad Max: Fury Road" carries a $150 million price tag.
Follow over the jump for more of those critical raves which generally praised the movie for being a great work of art that explores serious themes, including feminism as well as resource scarcity, in addition to being wonderful entertainment as well as a video explaining the plausibility of the premise, including a discussion of peak oil.